The electric car market is booming. Tesla makes more than 84,000 Model S and X cars per year for global consumption, and CEO Elon Musk promises that the addition of the affordable Model 3 to the lineup will push the company’s production to a half million in 2018. Wall Street analysts remain gaga over Tesla, driving market capitalization that has trumped Ford Motor Company, which helped send Mark Fields packing as that automaker’s erstwhile CEO.
But so far, that EV boom mostly has been in Wall Street’s big head. EVs make up about 1.5 percent of the U.S. market still and just 1 percent of the global market. What does Tesla’s future hold in light of the coming onslaught of EVs from mainstream luxury and commodity automakers? Will Tesla lose segment market share as the EV market expands, or will well-heeled greenies spurn the old guard brands?
These are the issues that surely plague Musk as he faces the question of how he might post a net profit on a relatively high-volume $35,000-plus car when his company hasn’t been able to make money on luxury models averaging $95,000.
The first Tesla Model 3s should be reaching anxious customers by now. The electric car’s compact, sport sedan-style body makes it no direct competitor for the Chevrolet Bolt, of which GM has sold 5,950 in the U.S. this year through May. The Model 3 will offer fewer luxury and tech features than the Model S, however, and its simpler manufacturing methods take advantage of what Tesla has learned from that luxury sedan over the past five model years.
As of press time, the Model 3’s base price of $35,000 is $2,495 less than the Bolt’s (both prices are before any tax rebates, such as the $7,500 federal credit), and the Tesla has an estimated range of 215 miles compared with the Chevy’s EPA range of “up to” 238 miles. Tesla claims 0-60 mph in less than 6 seconds while the Chevy made that sprint in 6.3 seconds, according to published tests. Model 3 owners also get to use Tesla’s growing network of Superchargers, which feature the automaker’s exclusive connecting system, while the Bolt can add 90 miles of range in 30 minutes at a fast-charging station.
Although this EV standoff is happening in the middle of the market, Jaguar will be the first mainstream manufacturer to seriously challenge Tesla at the upper end. The Jaguar I-Pace is set to go on sale in late 2018, with the production model to be unveiled at the Los Angeles Auto Show. It’s a five-seat crossover/SUV designed for performance with an estimated maximum range of roughly 310 miles on the New European Driving Cycle.
The Tesla Model S is rated 380 miles on the NEDC, according to the website electrek.co, which notes that the European cycle is much more generous than the U.S. EPA’s. However, the bigger, heavier Model X is rated up to 295 miles in the U.S., according to Tesla. So Jaguar, which calls the I-Pace concept “a performance car, a family car, and an SUV all in one,” might want to emphasize the I-Pace’s sport-utility qualities in its marketing.
The Jag’s 90-kWh pouch-cell lithium-ion battery will juice two synchronous permanent-magnet motors torquing the front and rear wheels. Jaguar says the combo makes 394 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque, capable of running from 0 to 60 mph in about 4 seconds.
If the Jaguar I-Pace is designed to take on the Tesla Model X, the Porsche Mission E will directly compete with the Model S when it goes on sale in the 2020 model year. Unveiled in concept form two full years ago at the 2015 Frankfurt show, it’s expected to use a version of the upcoming “baby Panamera” Pajun sedan platform but with two permanent-magnet synchronous motors delivering more than 600 horsepower to the four torque-vectored and steerable wheels good for 0-60 mph in less than 3.4 seconds.
Porsche says its goal is a 500-kilometer range (310 miles), which would equal the Jaguar I-Pace’s as measured on the much more generous European EV cycle. A 15-minute quick-charge time will deliver 80 percent of the range. As with the Jaguar, it’s reasonable to expect Porsche is being conservative with maximum range expectations and that both companies are working hard to hit the market with more full-charge miles than the Model S.
At the 2015 Frankfurt auto show, a Porsche product manager called Tesla’s Ludicrous mode a façade. “Two launches sap the whole battery,” he told Automobile. “That won’t be the case with the Mission E. You’ll be able to run it hard over and over.”
On the opposite end of the Volkswagen Group spectrum, the VW brand has committed to offering three EV models in the U.S. by 2022 as part of its $14.7 billion consent decree settled with the U.S. Department of Justice last year over the Dieselgate emissions-cheating scandal. All three models will ride on Volkswagen’s upcoming MEB dedicated electric vehicle platform.
VW’s EV hatchback based on the 2016 I.D. concept from Paris is likely to replace the Golf EV in Europe first, but being SUV-loving Americans, our first model off the new platform is a 2020 model production version of the I.D. Crozz unveiled earlier this year at the Shanghai motor show. The VW is shorter, wider, and lower but with more interior space than the new Tiguan and with a longer wheelbase, thanks to wheels pushed to the model’s four corners. Power comes from a 75-kW/101-hp front motor and 150-kW/201-horse rear motor, adding up to 225 kilowatts or 302 horsepower.
Daimler’s Smart division has done the smart thing by going electric-only for the U.S. and Canadian markets. The tall, stubby two-seater never broke the 40-mpg mark when powered by a three-cylinder gas engine. Although the updated 2017 Smart Fortwo Electric Drive models, available as a coupe or cabriolet since summer, won’t match the Chevy Bolt for lack of range anxiety, they could make decent shareable city cars.
Range is up by 2 to 12 miles over the old Smart EV, to a 70-80-mile range, and 240-volt charge time is halved to three hours. A 17.6-kWh battery feeds a three-phase synchronous motor. Horsepower is up by 6 to 80, and torque is up 22 lb-ft to 118. This propels the coupe from 0 to 60 mph in 11.4 seconds, a 0.1-second improvement. The new cabrio—Smart says it’s the only open-top electric car on the U.S. market—gets to 60 mph in 11.7 seconds, and top speed for both is 80 mph. Price is $24,550 for the coupe, $1,200 less than the old model, and $28,750 for the cabrio.
Between the Bolt and the Smart is the $30,875 2018 Nissan Leaf. Powering the second-generation EV, which arrives in early 2018, is an electric motor good for 147 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque—increases of 40 and 49, respectively. More importantly, its 40-kWh battery is good for 150 miles of range, a 43-mile increase over the outgoing Leaf. Additionally, a variant with a 60-kWh battery with a range of around 225 miles is expected later next year.
Then there’s the Faraday Future FF91, the bizarro Tesla Model S. A rather handsome prototype in a sort of Lincoln SUV-meets-moon-buggy way, it made its debut in a disaster of a CES 2017 press conference apparently full of what was left of cheering company employees and Tesla-like brand sycophants.
Specs on the FF91 are sparse, except that it apparently outpaces a Model S, and its battery module “features nearly twice the energy density found in today’s average EV,” according to Faraday Future’s slick but unenlightening “redesigned” website.
Faraday says you can take delivery in 2018.
Last but not least is the Lucid Air. The Air doesn’t feel nearly as vaporous as the FF91, thanks to more concrete details, extensive prototype development, and the presence of top tier talent at the company including former Mazda MX-5 designer Derek Jenkins and chief technology officer Peter Rawlinson, who was Tesla’s lead engineer.
According to Lucid, the Air will launch with a starting price of around $60,000, a base range of 240 miles, and a motor that sends 400 hp to the rear wheels. Other configurations include 315- and 400-mile ranges, dual-motor all-wheel drive, and a version with as much as 1,000 hp. Given the specs, it’s pretty clear Lucid is aiming the Air directly at the Model S.
Lucid, which showed a production intent version of the Air earlier this year, has released several videos of a prototype Air in action, including one where it hits a claimed 235 mph. The California-based automaker was expected to start construction of its factory in Arizona earlier this year, with production of the Air commencing in 2018. But recent reports that include an attempted sale to Ford indicate that the timeline may be slipping.